Saturday, October 6, 2018

New technology

Hanging around the machine knitting forums on Ravelry can be dangerous. You learn that you could, if you only had this or that bit of technology, accomplish amazing things.

So it was that I heard of the mysterious AYAB (All Yarns Are Beautiful) - a little computer board and custom program that with an Arduino can instruct a Brother electronic knitting machine to do just about anything. I did not own a Brother electronic knitting machine. I had not seen a second hand one for sale in my area. But late in the summer I finally found a KH950 with ribber for a reasonable price and I pounced.

Hacked at the U of O Makerspace
Long story short, I bought it, I acquired the board thanks to the help of a very generous knitter on Ravelry, I went to the local university maker space (very great resource, if you are looking to 3D print or laser cut something and lack the machinery BTW) and with the help of a great on-line tutorial and an engineering student, my 950 was successfully hacked.

My delight at producing this dumb little swatch was almost as great as the amazement of the 20-something student who helped me install the AYAB at how fast the machine could produce actual knitting. (Quite a few 20 somethings came over to ask what the heck that machine was, anyway...)

As I was engaged in this exercise, news of the amazing Australian knitter/software engineer who literally knitted a map of the universe hit all the sites, and friends kept sending me links. She uses AYAB!

So my late 1980s knitting machine technology was brought up to date and can now be controlled by way of a graphics editor running on a modern laptop. Goodbye, 550 random built-in 1980s patterns, hello unlimited knitting potential!

I downloaded GIMP which is free and seems pretty powerful although for my purposes I only need the most basic function (making pixels black or white). I found a video tutorial on YouTube that explains it very clearly.

Chart made in GIMP
My next step was to find some interesting stranded knitting patterns. I found a free pattern on Ravelry for fingerless gloves (Latvian Blooms). It's a hand-knitting pattern but who cares? It has charts! I entered the pattern into GIMP pixel by pixel. One pixel correlates to a stitch in AYAB. Then I copied the chart multiple times, somewhat randomized, into a bigger document (approximately 4x as wide). I uploaded that bigger image into AYAB and knitted it. It is knitted on 137 stitches and 90 rows and it took me no more than an hour to set it up and knit. The machine beeps as each new row is ready to be knitted. It's pretty brainless knitting, all things considered, and the machine works really well.

Once I finished knitting the chart, I set the machine to knit plain and continued for an unknown number of rows for a lining for my tea cozy (the stranded pattern has some really long floats that would get caught on things). This was super approximate.

AYAB automatically reverses the design so the knitted piece is the same as the original chart, not reversed left to right. This would be very handy if knitting text, for example.

Today I steamed the piece to control the curling edges and sewed it up with my sewing machine. It is basically a lined tube that is gathered at the top with a length of machine-knitted I-cord.

If it was the right size it would make a dandy hat, or a very warm cowl.


  1. Beautiful,so well done.Congratulations!������

  2. How neat! Congratulations on hacking it and getting such a great result!!

  3. This so cool!

    My mother bought a Silver Reed manual knitting machine in the 1960s. I sold it when I down-sized due to lack of space and time. Not to mention appropriate weather! About a year ago and without any real, useful purpose for it, I began wishing I had kept it!

    Hope you will continue to share your journey with us. Adding programmed operations makes it even more intriguing!


  4. Wow! The places you go with knitting are amazing. Congratulations on your perseverance.

  5. Incredible achievement who knew knitting could be so technical. Next thing will be to teach it the "rules" around floats or am I getting too AI is some human intervention still required? Love your finished tea cosy. Best dressed tea pot in town.

  6. I was part of the 1980's knitwear movement and still have 5 machines! Knitmaster and Brother ranging for fine gauge to chunky. Mostly with ribbers and at least 3 are electronic. Been packed away for years now. Should sell them I guess and let the next generation enjoy them!

  7. This is amazing! Thanks for sharing. I love it that you went to the maker space to get it dialed in and blew away the youngsters with your super cool machine. YAY!

  8. I am so impressed not just with the knitting, but with your technical skill in making old technology 21st century. Whats up next?

  9. WOW, I am not sure I followed this process, but I am really impressed with the results. I might just have to find one of these. You are right, your imagination can just run wild. You can knit anything you like!